Boys play on the roof of the entrance to a football stadium in Gao, Mali. February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
In their recent Working Paper on Shock responsive Social protection, Oxford Policy Management (OPM) suggest that Social Protection (SP) is often seen as “intrinsically intended to be shock-responsive in the sense that it should support people in the event of a shock or help to mitigate their susceptibility to shocks”.
The OPM paper also points out that this particular understanding of SP, raises challenges of how to build a system capable of responding in a flexible way to different kind of shocks (natural, economic or political) that affect a large number of people. Interestingly, the main challenges described in the OPM paper mirror closely the initial findings that emerge from the baseline evaluation of the World Bank’s ASP programme (ASPp) that is being implemented by Itad.
The three main points which resonate from both analyses are as follows;
(i) Many crises, many actors
Three types of crises which can impact poor and vulnerable people were identified in the OPM working paper: structural, seasonal and humanitarian crises. Each requires a different strategy linked to the specific populations affected (acknowledging that different crises can affect different populations) and to the specific intervention needed (e.g. duration or type of intervention will generally change according to the type of crisis).
On the ground the ASP evaluation found that in the Sahel structural crisis (chronic poverty) is prevalent and usually part of the mandate of the ministries in charge of vulnerable people (often the Ministry of social affairs or alike) generally operating with very little human and financial resources.
Seasonal crises are observed every year during the “lean season” in the region, and are usually dealt with by the ministry in charge of food security, (often in combination with international NGOs who provide humanitarian assistance through distribution of food, for example). Interestingly some of the key informants from the ASPp baseline also suggest that in the Sahel the seasonal crises have become recurrent, (almost structural), and require repeated interventions each year. This raises questions over the involvement of humanitarian actors when crises are seasonal and predictable.
Finally, humanitarian crises (floods, for example) happen less frequently but can affect a specific location/population and require rapid intervention. These types of crises are usually managed by the ministries of homeland security in collaboration with the ministries in charge of food security, although international actors (NGOs and UN agency) do often implement interventions in parallel or in collaboration with the governments’ actions.
From this it is clear that the challenge is therefore to avoid overlap and foster coordination between different actors (governmental and non-governmental) working in the same type of crisis and between actors working in different types of crisis. The diversity of governmental actors and non-governmental actors raises challenges around coordination, role distribution and efficient use of resources.
(ii) Flexibility: poor and “new poor”
SP systems should be able to target the different beneficiary groups affected by different types of crises and adjust their assistance according to the specific needs of those groups. In other words, SP systems need flexibility enough to embrace diversity and adequately identify and target different groups in the same population. In the Sahel region, vigorous discussions have been taking place on the targeting approach that should be used;some organizations are strong advocates of Proxy Mean Test - while others recommend the Household Economy Approach.
The majority of actors do however recognize the need to build and share a common database (or registry) of poor and vulnerable people. This initiative, currently led by the WB in the ASPp countries is being implemented, and constitutes a first and important step toward the construction of an effective SP system; but it should be comprehensive and flexible enough to target not only the individuals/groups affected by structural/chronic poverty, but also the non-structural poor/vulnerable groups.
A key issue with these database for registry is that currently they are expected to be updated only every 5 years, thereby missing any element of ‘transitory vulnerability’, which would therefore defeat its purpose. The discussion is admittedly complicated further by the need to establish a system which remains financially sustainable for the governments of the countries where it is implemented.
(iii) Maturity of the system
The ASPp baseline evaluation findings suggest that none of the 4 countries visited by the itad team are located very far along this gradient, all demonstrating to (different degrees) attributes from the levels between the “State-led interest” category and a “State-led expanding” situation, but without having fully established the requirements for achieving any of those advanced states.
The question of long-term sustainability is crucial here and made the Itad team wonder if governments’ current (political) will/interest is strong enough to drive these countries to reach a “State-led mature” stage. The question in many national and international actors’ minds is: “Are the countries able to fund and implement a scaled up ASP system on their own?”
In sum, the initial findings of the ASPp baseline reveal relatively similar challenges to those identified in the OPM Working Paper. It will be interesting to compare these baseline findings with the results of the endline scheduled to be implemented next year in the four countries, to identify potential changes/progress in relation to those challenges and establish whether or not the concept of ASP as it is currently imagined is progressively becoming a reality in the Sahel.
 Oxford Policy Management, 2015. Shock-responsive social protection systems, a research programme for DFID, Working paper 1: Conceptualising Shock-Responsive Social Protection, Oxford.
 under the DFID BRACED programme